“The house is silent and smells like a mix between the old people that kiss my cheeks at church, and the tiny storage unit where all our stuff lives now.”—Kai Harris, What the Fireflies Knew.
After her father dies of an overdose and the debts incurred from his addiction cause the loss of the family home in Detroit, almost-eleven-year-old Kenyatta Bernice (KB) and her teenage sister, Nia, are dropped off by their overwhelmed mother to live with their estranged grandfather in Lansing. The kids don’t know where she’s gone or if she’ll ever come get them. Over that sweltering summer, KB’s entire world is upended. Even her sister, always her best friend, suddenly wants nothing to do with her. KB spends most of her time reading and occasionally playing the White boy and girl across the street when their racist mom isn’t home.
Author Kai Harris does a beautiful job capturing the space between KB’s Black childhood and adolescence in her own authentic voice. As I read this short novel, I could picture the young narrator telling her story, not comprehending what is happening to her. Her dialect, however, became cumbersome, and I had trouble connecting with the characters. What The Fireflies Knew contains some wonderful life lessons about growing up, coping with change, and the treasure that is family, but I couldn’t get past the writing style. The book is most appropriate for young adult readers. 3.5 stars.
** Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book. The opinions expressed are my own.